John Dutton gives our final demo lesson for the day.
Using Narrative to Reinforce the Reading and Writing Curriculum
(How to Review the Reading and Writing SOLs)
John’s demo lesson concerns incorporating writing standards into an SOL-review scenario. John acts as a tour guide through a fantastical island, leading us through a place limited only by the constraints of our own creativity. John splits up our narrative journey into five days. Each day has a particular focus in terms of content and skill.
He puts us at east by lowering the lights and playing the sounds of ocean waves. He’s decorated the room with seashells, grass hula skirts, and starfish. He reads a text describing the beginning of our ‘island adventure.’ We’re wake from slumber on a deserted island. We notice the misting (could be the spray bottle he wields maniacally), the curmudgeonly crabs pacing back and forth in front of us.
Day 1 – Survival: Imagery
Day 2 – Food: Sensory details, adjectives
Day 3 – Protection: Figurative Language
Day 4 – Surprise: important vs. unimportant details
Day 5 – Rescue: Dialogue
Each day comes with instructions, guiding questions for writing, and one of John’s models for that particular day.
Day 1 Survival: After setting the narrative stage for us, we’re invited to continue the scene. How the heck did I get here? What’s the last thing I remember before waking up here?
Quickwrite1: I woke up from my deep slumber, dreams of home and safety and Martha dematerialize before I can grab hold of them. Of her. My lips, splintered from thirst, crack open. A thin rind of caked sand coats every inch of my body, suggesting I’ve been here for a while.
But where is here? Where am I? I rise to perform a quick topographical survey of what stretches before me. A smattering of trees standing amid endless sand. The conifers seem to congregate towards the west as if drawn by some puzzling manifestation of gravity.
We share with our shoulder partners. My partner suggests I turn this into an, “I’m trapped in a Bob Ross painting” meta-fiction piece. What a great idea!
Day 2 Food: John changes the ocean waves to a litany of crickets and asks us to describe the first night at the beach. Did you sleep on the beach? Did you sleep in a tree? What noises kept you awake? What did I eat? What foods were available?
Quickwrite2: My distended stomach is a paradox. How can I be so hungry yet so bloated at the same time? I need water. I need food. My stomach revolts against the lack of nourishment by sending a garbled gurgle up my esophagus with each step.
I love writing with lots of words, btw. This is a point of contention I have with my father. He thinks that an author’s use of multisyllabic words calls attention to the artifice of writing, snapping the reader out of the page-to-brain relationship. I, on the other hand, enjoy writers who employ a mammoth vocabulary. Contention is perhaps too strong a word. More like “point of departure.” A lot of this has to do with my obsession with David Foster Wallace. You see, I didn’t really read until I was in my mid twenties. And when I finally did pick a book it happened to be David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. You see, I remember seeing the book sitting on top of my dad’s table in his apartment when I was a teenager. I asked him if I should read it. He pondered the question before giving a matter-of-fact answer of, “You’re not ready yet.” I forgot about the book and that was that. Fast forward ten years to yours truly walking through a Barnes and Nobles. Out of nowhere, I suddenly remembered that dining room conversation with my dad. I quickly called him up:
Me: Hey! Remember that book?
Me: It was, like, huge. A really big book on your dining room table back in Arlington. It had a lot of colors on it. You said it was complicated and moved around a lot chronologically.
Dad: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
Me: Yes! Am I ready?
Dad: You’re ready.
I bought it, read it, re-read it, quit drinking, and realized I liked words.
I added that memory post lesson, btw.
I’m too busy marveling at John’s encyclopedic handout, a massive packet with all sorts of literary tricks and tips that connect the writing activity to SOL, in order to take full advantage of his generative writing prompts.
John is an explosion of ideas. I bet this guy is a maniac in the classroom.
That’s it until tomorrow. We’ll be in Winchester for a writing marathon!